Last year, the Whitehorse Raiders were the darlings of the 1A boys basketball tournament.
This year, they're the favorites.
Whitehorse, an American Indian school that dots the Southeastern corner of the state, advanced to the 1A semifinals a season ago behind the sensational play of then-juniors Trevor Martin and Byron Grant. Along the way, the Raiders picked up fans and supporters from almost everyone who watched them play inside the Sevier Valley Center.
With a talented supporting cast in tote, Martin, whom many consider to be the classification's top player, and Grant, a quick guard that's a star in his own right, will return to that venue this week in hopes of showing what they can do again.
"They've been picked first for most of the season ... and for good reason," said Escalante co-head coach Greg Allen. "They're a good team."
No. 1 Whitehorse leads what promises to be a deep field of contenders during this week's 1A tournament. The 1A boys basketball action gets rolling today and tomorrow with six play-in contests, and the 1A tournament will officially begin with first-round games Wednesday at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield.
While many feel there are at least a half dozen teams capable of winning the 1A tournament maybe more, depending on what happens in the play-in games there's little doubt that Whitehorse is the favorite.
The Raiders are unbeaten against in-state competition, and their three loses, which came against Monument Valley of Arizona (enrollment 995 in 2005), Piedro Vista of New Mexico (enrollment approximately 1,250) and Sandia Prep of New Mexico (enrollment 670), were to schools with much bigger student populations.
The experience of playing against those bigger schools could now be hugely beneficial to Whitehorse, which faces a very tough tournament draw.
Besides the Raiders, watch out for Region 15, which many believe features a ton of depth.
Asked about the fact there appears to be four teams from Region 15 Wayne, Panguich, Escalante and Piute that could hoist the 1A championship trophy this Saturday, Allen quickly noted that people shouldn't sleep on his region's fifth-place team (Valley).
"I would say that Valley has played well enough that they could win it," said Allen. "That's not trying to take anything away from the other teams and regions. If you finished first in your region, you're a first-place team and that's the way it is. But I do know we have strength in this league this year."
Meanwhile, Christian Heritage went unbeaten in Region 17 en route to that league title, while unproven Dugway, the Region 18 champ, enters the 1A tournament with a glossy 20-1 record.Don't forget about Region 16 champ Rich or Region 16 No. 3 seed Tabiona, either.